A Collector’s Guide to Burgundy and its Crus

A Collector’s Guide to Burgundy and its Crus

Ahead of A Remarkable Burgundy Cellar|Finest & Rarest Wines taking place on 3 April in Hong Kong, Lucy Shaw takes a deep dive into Burgundy, exploring its history and crus, and highlighting some of the best wines in the sale.
Ahead of A Remarkable Burgundy Cellar|Finest & Rarest Wines taking place on 3 April in Hong Kong, Lucy Shaw takes a deep dive into Burgundy, exploring its history and crus, and highlighting some of the best wines in the sale.

L oved for their heady perfume, beguiling beauty and pure fruit flavours, Burgundy’s wines offer power and delicacy in the same glass. The hallowed ground of the Côte d'Or is home to some of the most prized producers on the planet, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Ramonet, Armand Rousseau and Domaine Leroy, which continue to smash auction records as an expanding global audience of collectors seeks to snap up standout vintages from these top names.

Roman Roots

Located in east-central France, Burgundy has nurtured vines since the Roman times, with the first evidence of vineyards documented in 312AD. During Charlemagne’s reign in the 8th and 9th centuries, Burgundy carved out a reputation for the quality of its wines, while Cistercian monks later cemented its progress by planting vineyards across the Côte de Nuits in the 11th century.

With over 100 appellations, more than 28,000 hectares of vines and 3,000 producers making some 15 million cases of wine a year, Burgundy can be a complex region to get to grips with; but at its core are the four ‘Vs’: village, vineyard, vigneron and vintage.

Vosne Romanée, Cros Parantoux 1985 Henri Jayer (1 BT) | Estimate: 85,000 – 110,000; Clos de Vougeot 2002 René Engel (12 BT) | Estimate: 170,000 - 240,000 HKD

Transmitting Terroir

Working principally with just one red variety – Pinot Noir – and one white – Chardonnay – the region’s winemakers are respected around the world for their ability to reveal marked differences in wines made from grapes grown mere metres apart. Hot summers and harsh winters are the norm in Burgundy, where clay-limestone soils from the Jurassic era abound. Taking in everything from bathonian and bajocian to kimmeridgian and portlandian, each soil type found within the region has its own characteristics which, along with slope and aspect to the sun, account for the differing characteristics of Burgundy’s various vineyards.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the perfect conduits through which to reveal these subtle differences in soil and climate. The Pinots display darker fruit and spice flavours in Burgundy’s cooler areas, and more red fruits and floral characteristics in warmer areas. Elsewhere, Chardonnay adapts well to a range of climates, producing citrus and apple-scented expressions in the cool region of Chablis, and wines full of orchard fruits in the warmer Côte de Beaune.

Decoding the Crus

Established in 1935, there are four quality tiers within Burgundy’s classification system. At the base of the pyramid are the regional appellations, such as Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Mâcon, which account for more than half of all wines produced in the region. Next come the 44 village appellations, such as Volnay and Puligny-Montrachet, which represent around 37% of total production.

Then come the Premier Cru vineyards, such as Meursault Charmes Premier Cru and Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques Premier Cru, which account for just 10% of the production in Burgundy. Sitting atop the quality pyramid are Burgundy’s 33 Grand Cru vineyard sites, which account for less than 2% of all wine produced in the region each year.

A Tale of Two Côtes

The Côte d’Or is split into two sections: the Côte de Nuits in the north, which is almost exclusively planted with Pinot Noir, and the Côte de Beaune down south, where Chardonnay reigns supreme. The Côte de Nuits is the source of Burgundy’s greatest reds from villages such as Nuits-St-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée.

Producing silky, ethereal reds, Vosne-Romanée boasts Burgundy’s most lauded vineyards: Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg and Romanée-Saint-Vivant, and is home to some iconic producers including DRC, Leroy, Méo-Camuzet and Liger-Belair. The wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, meanwhile, are celebrated for their perfume and power. Further south, the Côte de Beaune is the source of Burgundy’s greatest whites and home to villages such as Aloxe-Corton, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.

Sacred Sites  

Land ownership in Burgundy is fragmented. It’s common for a family to own less than a hectare of land, while some preside over just a few rows of vines, meaning what little wine is produced from the top domaines is highly coveted by collectors. Hailing from the heart of the Côte d’Or – a 50km, east-facing ‘golden slope’ – where the balance of clay and limestone is optimal, Burgundy’s top vineyards are the source of the region’s most powerful, complex and ageworthy wines, which are among the most sought-after in the world.

Collector interest remains focused on Grands Crus from producers with enviable reputations, such as Domaine Leroy, DRC, Ramonet and Armand Rousseau. While approachable in their youth, these wines often need at least a decade in bottle to come into their own, but the best expressions from the top vintages will age gracefully for many decades more.

Highlights from A Remarkable Burgundy Cellar

T aking place on 3 April at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, A Remarkable Burgundy Cellar |Finest & Rarest Wines brings a selection of some of the world’s most coveted Burgundies that have been meticulously assembled over a 20-year period and perfectly stored.

Featuring wines from a span of vintages and famed ‘clos’, including Clos de Tart, Clos St. Denis, Clos de la Roche and Clos des Lambrays, most of which are ready to drink, “the sheer opulence of the Grands Crus is something to behold,” says Serena Sutcliffe MW, Honorary Chairman of Sotheby’s Wine. “The white Burgundies encompass producers who know how to transform Chardonnay into wines that are almost subversively beautiful,” she adds.

The sale includes wines from a compelling mixture of acclaimed producers, from historic references, to those who have achieved modern cult status. Henri Jayer and his famed Cros Parantoux are a match made in heaven for those who pursue the true greats of Burgundy – a bottle each of the splendid 1985 and 1990 vintages promises a truly epic side-by-side tasting. The sale also boasts rare examples of blue-chip bottlings offered in full 12-bottle cases, such as René Engel’s Clos de Vougeot 2002 and Domaine d’Auvenay’s Meursault Les Gouttes d’Or 1997. The wines of a more modern great in the form of Cécile Tremblay will likewise go under the hammer, with six seldom-seen magnums of her Echézeaux du Dessus in the superlative 2009 vintage available.

We’ve selected three highlights from the sale that you’ll want to have your paddle at the ready for.

Domaine Dujac Clos Saint Denis 1989 (6 bottles)

Clos Saint Denis 1989 Domaine Dujac (6 BT) | Estimate: 100,000 – 140,000 HKD

 A Grand Cru within the Morey-Saint-Denis appellation, Clos Saint Denis produces concentrated, racy reds that evolve into soft, delicate wines. From the red fruit profile of its early years, Dujac Clos Saint Denis develops complex notes of liquorice and violets over time, and hints of leather after a decade in the bottle.

Domaine Ramonet Montrachet 1995 (12 bottles)

Montrachet 1995 Domaine Ramonet (12 BT) | Estimate: 240,000 - 320,000 HKD

 Presiding over 0.26 hectares of vineyard land in the famed Le Montrachet Grand Cru, old vines and low yields are the cornerstones of Ramonet's viticultural philosophy. A wine of great power, length and concentration, the Montrachet receives up to 100% new oak and offers notes of toasty oak, poached pears spiced with cloves, smoky minerality, dried herbs and spearmint.

Domaine Leroy Musigny 2002 (1 bottle)

Musigny 2002 Domaine Leroy (1 BT) | Estimate: 180,000 - 220,000

Producer of some of greatest reds on the Cote d’Or, Domaine Leroy is run by the indomitable Lalou Bize-Leroy, a long-time champion of biodynamic viticulture. Her wines have a signature thread of concentration and richness running through them, and her 2002 Musigny Grand Cru is revered for its grace, satin texture, purity, explosive violet and cherry flavours, and lingering finish.

Wine The Hong Kong Sales

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